Carbon captures interest of the world's students

THE four students talk confidently, and their eyes light up as they talk with conviction about their course.

Each of them has moved from home to be in Scotland, including one who has come from Canada and another from Indonesia. These countries are geographically a world apart, but each has a younger generation that is bent on tackling a common cause.

These four students are among the first intake for the new masters degree in carbon management run by Edinburgh University. The course provides students with the know-how to work as policy-makers and professionals in the emerging carbon management and renewable energy industries.

The first multidisciplinary course of its type anywhere in the world, its syllabus encompasses elements of science, law, business management and ethics. Like many of the chemical reactions that involve carbon, a catalyst was required. Here, it came in the form of Dr David Reay, a biology academic, consultant and writer.

"Edinburgh is at the forefront of scientific research on climate change," Dr Reay explains. "It is the perfect place to run this course, with its multidisciplinary talent able to address all parts of the carbon story. We wanted to bring it together and give the students the tools they need, integrated knowledge, to be part of the drive to change."

This integration is reflected in the set-up of the course. Run by the university's geosciences department and based in the business management building, it sets up a healthy dynamic between the two schools of thought.

"We have a good number of experts from industry and government come in to lecture, showing the students how theory becomes practice," Dr Reay says. "We want students to understand how to critically evaluate environmental policies and initiatives. This scientific approach is crucial for anyone working on this fast-evolving agenda."

Despite the fact the course was launched in the summer, with only one published advertisement, it was oversubscribed.

"We are confident demand will continue," says Dr Reay. "For the time being, we want to limit student numbers to 40, as this is an ideal number for group work. Then, once we are established, we might form another group of 40. Climate change modules are also being considered for other university courses, including law and business."

The students are also active contributors to the university's new Edinburgh Climate Change Centre, which will allow academics to interact better with politicians and the business community.

We spoke to some of the students currently taking this groundbreaking course.

KAJETAN CZYZ AGED 24, from POLAND

"MY PREVIOUS course in finance taught the spirit of traditional economics, focused primarily on the profit motive. This is only half of the story.

I think there is a problem with the way the global economy is functioning today. Air, land, and water are being polluted, species are becoming extinct and natural habitats are being destroyed.

At my previous university, in Poland, I launched an organisation focused on sustainable development, fair trade and poverty reduction. Most students and faculty acknowledged they were important issues, but said they had more pressing things to do. This point of view also seems to be shared by many businesspeople and government officials.

It's unfortunate that many people see sustainability in this way – an either/or issue; an additional and unnecessary cost of doing business and being successful.

Poland has many opportunities, which disprove this view. Before the 1950s we had over 7,000 small hydro plants. Now we have a few hundred. Rejuvenating this sector would create new jobs in SMEs and reduce our dependence on coal at the same time. 93 per cent of our electricity is from burning coal.

The world economy needs to be transformed so that not doing harm is not an altruistic chore but an effortless natural outcome of the economic system. I am here to learn how we can achieve this revolution in business.

I want to go back home to help Poland get better at managing the environment. Under the Kyoto Protocol there are many opportunities to introduce new technologies.

The course is very business-focused and really hands-on. It's hard work, very intensive, which is a good thing.

I really like the mixed diversity of people. Collaborating and working closely together is positively encouraged."

ERIKA WARNATZSCH AGED 22, from CANADA

"I CAME straight into a Masters programme from my undergraduate degree in environment, specialising in geology and economics.

This was an odd combination – according to my friends – but it fits very well with what I want to do next, and it is helping me now. I was particularly drawn to Edinburgh because there is nothing like this course anywhere in Canada or the United States.

I want to learn about carbon capture and storage. This is a 'transition' technology, an unfortunate necessity given our fossil fuel addiction.

It pumps captured carbon dioxide back into empty oil and gas fields under the ground. In this way it is prevented from harming the atmosphere.

The big issue in my country, which is like a ticking environmental time bomb, is the oil tar sands in the province of Alberta. Shell and other companies have bought huge tracts of land and they will mine the tar and turn it into oil when it becomes commercially viable.

This process is very carbon-intensive and I'm afraid it is almost inevitable that these mineral resources will be exploited.

I want to go back to Canada to help develop this technology. I am interested in research, and may do a PhD after I graduate. Or I may go into consulting, depending on the job market.

The course group is really supportive, and so diverse. That makes it really interesting.

And I love Edinburgh. I'm living in a building that is older than my country. That's amazing."

IBNU NAJIB AGED 27, from INDONESIA

"I AM here on behalf of the ministry of state-owned enterprises of Indonesia. Government departments are being better co-ordinated to tackle the climate change agenda. This is a massive challenge.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office helped arrange for me to study this course under the Chevening Scholarship scheme. I'm lucky because my course is sponsored by HSBC and I'll work for the government for at least six years when I go back.

Deforestation is the third largest source of carbon emissions worldwide, and avoiding the chopping down of trees is one of the cheapest ways to tackle climate change.

Indonesia has around 100 million hectares of rainforests reserves, which need protecting, particularly on the island of Borneo.

I'm not sure that Indonesia will have a carbon reduction target after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires.

Being optimistic, governing parties will recognise that alleviating poverty and solving climate change go hand in hand. Preserving the forests is essential for people's livelihoods. I hope that the post-Kyoto agreement will accommodate emission reduction from avoided deforestation.

I'm really enjoying the course, and meeting new people. Hearing all the different views is part of what makes it all so interesting. I am also involved with the Climate Cool initiative at the British Council in Asia. We are collaborating with youth groups around the world to understand and get involved in the agenda."

KEVIN HOUSTON AGED 55, from ENGLAND

"I HAVE worked in the consumer goods, IT and consulting sectors, and lived in Turkey and Germany. I have taken a sabbatical to learn more about carbon management. I am self-funded.

In 33 years in the commercial world I have never come across such an interesting group as there is on this course. I'm meeting students from Mauritius, Tanzania and New Mexico. They are a terrific bunch.

I like the way this course combines it all: the science, the economics, pricing mechanism of the carbon markets, and the ways that businesses deal with the problem, carbon foot-printing and so on. This is giving us a deep understanding.

I have been interested in climate change from an early age. But it was the IPCC's findings on science, in their fourth assessment report, and Sir Nicholas Stern's report on the economics, that changed everything. I saw their galvanising effect at IBM. In the last 18 months climate change has come to the fore. They set up a climate change department, and considered all the ways that IT and systems thinking can reduce carbon emissions. For me, logistics and distribution networks are a growth area. The supply chain of the future will need to see sharing of warehousing, shipping and road transportation infrastructure if we want to reduce emissions. Carbon understanding is what businesses need.

Business is just one side of the coin. People will demand it too. Once the penny drops with the general public, it will become more of a moral issue. This current credit crisis offers us the best opportunity in decades to go in a new direction. This would help us meet our 80 per cent Climate Bill targets.

When I graduate, I am thinking about moving in the policy world to try to frame the right strategies for carbon reduction and adapting to climate change."

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